Ballad of chicken hearts

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Meat sweats: Start making your reservations now.

Empress Tavern—the meat-centric restaurant from the Mother team—is finally open, but it’s already booked solid until next week. Those earliest reservations were snatched up by friends and industry folks who attended a preview gala last Saturday night—and understandably so. The space is stunning. It feels undeniably, well, cool.

The vaulted brick ceilings make Empress feel like an old European tavern, but shiny gold wallpaper, modern light fixtures—like upside-down dandelions—and playful accents keep the restaurant fun and quirky. Empress does not take itself too seriously.

Photos have been circulating the Web for quite some time now, though, so I won’t dwell on the design. Let’s talk food.

Most of Saturday’s offerings came from the kitchen’s huge rotisserie. Both the showstopping porchetta, served with pickles and cracklings, and brisket, topped simply with mustard, instantly melted in my mouth. Smoked, juicy prime rib paired beautifully with sharp horseradish and sweet bordelaise. The turducken—a stuffed wonder of chicken, duck and turkey—made me giggle purely for existing, but I was more wowed by the two other chicken preparations: incredibly tender chicken hearts with a bright chimichurri, and roasted chicken atop rich chicken liver mousse. I ate way more than my fair share of chicken hearts. Don’t even bring up the sweetbreads.

All around, the flavors were simple but spot-on; the execution flawless.

What can your vegetarian friends eat? Some appetizers, salads and sides—and maybe items off the Mother menu. Empress is still figuring out whether bringing food down from Mother would violate any codes. It could happen, but don’t show up next week and expect to order a carrot nut burger.

With the bustling open kitchen, large and striking full bar and ridiculous beer bottle list of something like 40 rare brews, Empress promises to be one of the hottest destinations in town. My only question: Can you eat too many chicken hearts?

Burly, bold: At night, you might find Gabriel Aiello playing with Carly DuHain’s band Drop Dead Red. During the day, working production at Preservation & Co. But eventually, he wants his main gig to be bubbly drinks: ginger ale, chai root beer, shrub sodas. Last week, he kickstarted his business Burly Beverages via Indiegogo campaign. I recently tasted Aiello’s lemon-jalapeno shrub soda, which impressed with a bold heat that lingered in your throat while remaining sweet and refreshing.